We are back to school, settled into classes and the school routine. Students are chatting about their summers, places they went and their new back-to-school gear.

We all want to give our children the best, but within our budget. This is part of the reason that our schools have uniforms and a no-gadgets policy. (Phones, tablets and the like must be turned off and kept in backpacks at all times.) But kids will be kids, sharing stories and their joy in new things with friends. Some comparison is inevitable.

What do you do when your children ask you for items or experiences that their friends have, but that you don’t consider a priority or worse, simply can’t afford? Here are some suggestions:

  • Give them the chance to put it on their Christmas list, but remind them that Santa can only bring so many gifts per child. This is close enough in “kid time” to be exciting, but far enough away that most of the requests will be forgotten by that time. (Or in the case of tech, they will want something else!) A birthday list is a good alternative.
  • Contribute what you would have spent. Anything over that, the child has to earn. Younger children can “earn” the item by doing chores, etc. The important thing is for them to experience what it’s like to work for an item instead of just asking for it, and to decide whether the item is worth that effort.
  • Talk values, not value. Remind your kids that not all families are alike. Mom and Dad may choose to spend their money differently, or perhaps there is less money but the parents are home much more often.
  • Be conscious of what you say and do around them. Children absorb everything, and they may misinterpret comments about money, neighbors or relatives.

These two links are a couple of years old, but I’ve found them quite interesting, with a variety of ideas and solutions: “My kid wants what her rich friends get” on Babycenter.com’s blog and “‘Daddy, Are We Rich?’ and Other Tough Questions” on The New York Times’ Your Money page.

This is also a good time to give your kids firsthand experience with budgeting, spending and saving. In fact, the difference between need and want, and between people and their things, is one of the most important lessons we can teach our kids – and a valuable gift that doesn’t cost money at all.

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